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DEAR HARRIETTE: My son likes to wear nail polish. He gets creative with it, just like my daughter used to. I am concerned that this could mean that he is gay, even though his behavior doesn't seem like it other than the nails. I know I'm not supposed to have thoughts about his sexual identity, but I would be lying if I said it doesn't bother me. This nail polish thing came out of nowhere -- at least as far as I can see -- and I just don't want him to take it too far. Soon he will be applying for college, and I don't want his nail color to be a distraction. What should I say or do? -- Boy Wearing Nail Polish, Denver

DEAR BOY WEARING NAIL POLISH: First of all, it's perfectly normal for a parent to have thoughts about a child's sexual identity. What you want to avoid is having judgment about it. Of all of the things your son could do, wearing fingernail polish is on the benign side. It can be removed easily and is temporary. Your son could be having fun with style and feels comfortable drawing outside of the box, so to speak. But you should find out. Ask him why he started painting his nails and what that means for him. Listen carefully to his answers. In a separate exchange, you can also ask him if he's gay. It's OK to be direct in your inquiry. If you ask simply to learn the answer, you may receive a simple answer.

Regarding the nail polish itself, you can have a practical conversation where you recommend that he not wear colored polish to his college interviews. Suggest that it is best not to provide any distraction from his ability to present his mind and intellectual acumen to schools. This is true for males and females. Dressing conservatively for those interviews is best.

DEAR HARRIETTE: A friend of mine is writing a book, and she asked me to do a first read. I work as an editor for a living, which is why she asked me. I tend to not want to get involved in these types of things because it rarely turns out well. I told her that I was too busy to do a thorough job. She begged me to skim it anyway. I couldn't figure out how to get around it, so I agreed. I have started to read it, and it is poorly written. The grammar, sentence structure and basic storytelling sucked. How do I tell her that? I don't want to hurt her feelings, but there is no way that she is going to get this book published. I don't have time to properly edit it for her. What do I say? -- Not an Author, Philadelphia

DEAR NOT AN AUTHOR: Since your friend entrusted you with her book, you owe her the truth. Tell her that you have read some of it, and it needs a lot of work. Point out some of the basic concerns, including grammar, sentence structure and storytelling. Suggest that she take a class or workshop where she can bring her book and work on it under the tutelage of a writing professional. Make it clear that you do not have time to offer her this service, but you know it is essential if she is to get her book published.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I host events at my job a lot, and it's usually fun until we get to the Q&A segment. I feel like most participants who raise their hands just want to hear themselves talk. They don't seem to have a real question, and they tend to take the whole event off-message. We give clear guidelines about how to ask questions succinctly, but it rarely seems to work. Sometimes people hog the microphone, and it can be awkward tearing it away from them. What can I do to keep control of the event? -- Give Back the Mic, Cleveland

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DEAR GIVE BACK THE MIC: This is the big challenge of the Q&A format of live events. One organization that I work with controls this by giving audience participants notecards. If they think of questions, they are to write them down on the cards and then the moderator will select questions to read to the panelists, who will then answer. This controls the superfluous grandstanding and meandering that can occur when you relinquish control of the mic.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106

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